Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Life is like a paper snowflake. No, not really.

I think I've made it abundantly clear that February is not my favorite month. I was getting pretty jazzed that March was almost here (all hail March, month of wild winds and thawing earthworms!) and then, with just two days to go, we get dumped on -- heavy, wet snow, and lots of it. My "oh, how I love the lacy naked trees etched on the gray sky" winter coping mantra isn't cutting it at the moment. It is during these dark days that I turn to one of my wintertime obsessions: paper snowflakes.

I am no artist. But the beauty of the paper snowflake is that you can create something exquisite almost by accident (sorta like procreation, but without the swollen ankles and excruciating labor pains). With my Basic Principles of Snowflakery, you cannot go wrong. Added benefit: snowflake cutting makes you feel mildly productive while indulging in your third episode of Arrested Development.


-- Always fold your square of paper into sixths -- never fourths or eighths.
-- Use small scissors with a sharp point so that you can cut spaces out of the center of your wedge of paper, rather than just the edges.
-- Never, EVER recut your snowflake after opening it. (That's like giving your infant a nose job.)
-- Do pay attention to patterns that turn out well so that you can incorporate them into later snowflakes. (That's like eugenics, I guess, but they're only paper snowflakes, for Pete's sake. Yeesh. Quit taking this so seriously.)
-- Cut lots and lots -- one of them is bound to be accidentally gorgeous. (But of course you'll love them all equally, won't you?)

As an avid (i.e. rabid) snowflaker of several years, I have had many hours to ponder how Life is like cutting a paper snowflake. After awhile, you get a sense of what will probably work, but you never know for sure if you have a winner until you open it. You're not entirely responsible for either your successes or your failures -- it's just too complex for that kind of control. Sometimes the Cosmic Scissors intervene and lend you inspiration. Other times, you're alone, and you have to choose: should you cut yet another *%!?#! snowflake, or plunge those embroidery scissors into your chest and end it all? But you must remember that the darkest moment comes just before the.....

Oh, jeez. Deep breaths. Spring is almost here.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Ode to a nameless cat, take two.

A couple weeks back I picked up the novel A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami. Guy's been on the short list for the Nobel Prize in Literature the past couple years, but the real draw was the descriptors used most often by reviewers: "verbal anarchy," "screwball," "wicked and loopy." I thought I should at least give him a try. I just finished the book and it seems to be an off-the-wall allegory for post-WWII Japan and its relationship with the West. Mighty odd, as advertised. I'm not sure I'll read more by him, but I really bonded with the author during the scene in which the hero heads out on his quest and is arranging for someone to take care of his nameless cat:

He'd been a fine young tom the day my wife found him under a park bench and brought him home, but in the last few years he'd rapidly gone downhill. Like a bowling ball rolling toward the gutter. Also, he didn't have a name. I had no idea whether not having a name reduced or contributed to the cat's tragedy.

"Nice kitty-kitty," said the chauffeur, hand not outstretched. "What's his name?"

"He doesn't have a name."

"So what do you call the fella?"

"I don't call it," I said. "It's just there."

"But he's not a lump just sitting there. He moves about by this own will, no? Seems mighty strange that something that moves by its own will doesn't have a name."

"Herring swim around of their own will, but nobody gives them names."

"Well, first of all, there's no emotional bond between herring and people, and besides, they wouldn't know their name if they heard it."

"Which is to say that animals that not only move by their own will and share feelings with people but also possess sight and hearing qualify as deserving of names then?"

"There, you got it." The chauffeur nodded repeatedly, satisfied. "How about it? What say I go ahead and give the little guy a name?"

"Don't mind in the least. But what name?"

"How about 'Kipper'? I mean you were treating him like a herring after all."

"Not bad, " I said.

"You see?" said the chauffeur.

"What do you think?" I asked my girlfriend.

"Not bad," she said. "It's like being witness to the creation of heaven and earth."

"Let there be Kipper," I said.

"C'mere, Kipper," said the chauffeur, picking up the cat. The cat got frightened, bit the chauffeur's thumb, then farted.

This Nobel-caliber author has said what I could not on the topic of nameless pets, and I hope that the world will cease persecuting me. I love my cat more than a whole barrel of herring, but she doesn't care whether I call her "kitty" or "Kipper" or "Tarzan." She just wants a full food dish and some ankles to chase. Plus, if I give her a real name, it would be so much harder to eat her.

"Maybe if I wasn't so busy all the time, everyone in the world would be a friend of mine..."

My cousin knows how to butter me up by seeking my Literary Opinions -- most recently she asked me for a friendship-themed poem appropriate for inscribing on a farewell card for a dear departing roommate. I racked my brain and found that nearly all my memorized poems were about 1) unrequited love, 2) regret, 3) death. No good. My internet research on happy friendship poems turned up a heap of trite crap as well as a delightful piece about a friendly catfish, but realizing that catfish sentiments probably weren't what she had in mind, I decided to consult the index of my Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson. Now, Emily D. was obsessed with death, as you may know -- over and over you think you're reading a love poem, but nearly always it turns out she's actually dating the Grim Reaper in disguise. However, I managed to dig up a few beauties about friendship that appear to be entirely death-free. One of these was almost giddy by Emily standards --->

Meeting by Accident,
We hovered by design --
As often as a Century
An error so divine
Is ratified by Destiny,
But Destiny is old
And economical of Bliss
As Midas is of Gold --

and it reminded me of the topic I've been meaning to blog about since the day Meadowbright, Fairy of the Sun, first flitted into my life. Here's how it happened: while sorting through a pile of junk mail one night, I first beheld her....and laughed out loud. My first thought was, "I have to keep this -- Sharon will DIE." I set her aside on the kitchen counter as a special handpicked treasure for my friend. Later that week, Sharon was at my place and noticed little Meadowbright gazing up at her. "Oh my word!" exclaims Sharon. "I saved that for you, too -- I knew it would make you laugh!" Cue the strings -- we have a bosom buddy moment! Some days I wonder sadly if my friends are only my friends by virtue of our proximity, or matching marital status, or other merely circumstantial factors, and then a little sprite called Destiny blesses us with Magic and everything gets all sparkly.

Another friend recently despaired of ever convincing her fiancé to sit through our beloved Anne of Green Gables miniseries because he just couldn't buy into Anne's whole "kindred spirit" schtick. Now, I have my reservations about this concept as it's often applied to romantic relationships -- as much as I'd like to believe that there is a single pre-selected One out there, perfectly and solely suited for me, it doesn't ring true. However, I do believe that there are people you're more akin to -- people you somehow know effortlessly.

This same friend, for example: I'd observed her throughout high school as we were in most of the same classes. She was smart, friendly, and unpretentious and I often flattered myself that if we just had occasion to interact, we would hit it off. But she was on a higher social plane, so I opted to play the coward and leave the matter to fate. Fate dragged his feet, but finally presented us with neighboring front-row seats in European History. Before you know it, we're blowing off studying (gasp!) for a stack of old movies -- two brainiac chicks gone wild. We knew each other just over a year before she shipped off to Boston for college, but it was a friendship that's stuck in spite of diverging paths. Yaknowwhati'msayin'?

The spookiest bosom buddy story I've saved for last. My final year of college I moved into a new place and had an unpleasant run-in with one of my new roommates. She had staked out the house months before and had her eye on my side of the room; however, I moved in first, and in an uncharacteristically stubborn display, refused to let her have the spot she had so desired. We eventually reached a point of chatty civility, but it was tinged with a lingering mistrust. When I realized how much we had in common I regretted my decision to stay put, but the fact remained that I was sleeping in her bed and had no intention of moving. Grrr! Then one day I was going through my files and came across an old letter to the editor that I'd cut out of the university newspaper a couple years before. I NEVER bother to cut things out of the newspaper, let alone actually file them away for future reference, but this letter was so deliciously funny that I had preserved it in my "Nifty Random Stuff" file. I took it out to have another chuckle, and whose name is printed at the top, but my bed-coveting roommate's. I run downstairs to inform her that, unbeknownst to me, I'm her biggest fan. She freaks out because she'd forgotten to save a copy of the letter when it ran in the paper, and here I had a copy all along. Instant friends. Post-college roomies for three years. Like an old married couple.

I could go on and on. Heck -- one friend even mailed me a bag of fairy dust when I was going through a rough time -- doesn't get much more magical than that. Are these meetings coincidence, or Meant To Be? Are they decreed from on high, or created by us? Hard to say for sure, but as Ms. Dickinson points out, they're pretty rare, and even if they start out as accidents they can end up Destiny. A couple weeks ago when a new friend was moving away to an exotic land she said that if she'd stuck around we would have been good friends. Who can say? It's such a mysterious mix of fate and circumstance. Perhaps with just a pinch of that pixie dust, a few happy thoughts (and two easy payments of $19.99), you, too, can have your very own Diana Barry kindred spirit buddy. Could be around the next corner, or in tomorrow's mail.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

I'll tell you my zinger if you tell me yours.

Woo hoo! Lookie at me! I won a contest! A very battle of wit(tiness)! I'm bigger than the Beatles and Tickle Me Elmo, put together!

Now that I'm all gloated out, confession time: my struggle with humor hubris has devolved into a neverending game of Whack-a-Mole. Just when I have sworn off the cheap laughs once and for all, up pops another fat little rodent with "mock me" taped to his backside. Just when I have meekly donned the gray habit of the Unfunny Nunnery and committed myself to a life of abstinence from sarcasm, someone (usually President Bush) sets himself up for a snarky comment and off I go again, humor whoring.

No doggedly perfecting my Art alone in some cave and burying well-crafted, tasteful jokes to be unearthed by future generations -- I crave your approval, folks. I'm just an overgrown class clown (blame it on the adult acne!), so if you laughed, then it was funny -- simple as that. On the bright side, if you ignore me, I will definitely go away. But don't ignore me! Please! Oh, oh -- I know! Have you heard the one about the squid and the rabbi who walked into a bar...?

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

When divas go down.

Tonight Sharon and I attended an encore broadcast performance of the Met's I Puritani with the new darling of the opera world, Anna Netrebko, in the role of Elvira. She is gorgeous, with a charming sense of humor and a voice that is both exquisite and expressive, even when she's singing upside down with her head in the orchestra pit.

Yep -- God loves Anna Netrebko better than He loves you and me and Maria Callas, combined. I kept saying to myself, "She probably has some dark secret. Maybe a superfluous third nipple." But it didn't work. She just glowed with loveliness and grace and that glow threw my pettiness up on the wall in twisted shadows.

After beating back my envy somewhat I was able to surrender to her moving performance, but it was still fun to watch some of her sister divas act out my inner cattiness. During intermissions they cut to Renée Fleming interviewing Anna in her dressing room backstage. Renée was doing her best to grit her teeth and let the new girl shine, but she kept pulling the mike away from Anna mid-sentence so she could make another sage observation about the Art of Opera. I've got one for you, Renée: divas should never interview divas.

They also interviewed the 77-year-old Beverly Sills during intermissions, asking for her reactions to each act:

"Ms. Sills, what do you think of this production?"

"Oh, it's always a bit ridiculous when they mix costumes and styles from different eras, but who am I to complain? Every production is different."

"Ms. Sills, wasn't Anna's mad scene remarkable? Such a difficult bel canto passage!"

"Well, when I sang the lead in Lucia di Lammermoor, now that was a real mad scene. It wasn't like a teenager disappointed in love -- it was profound madness. As for those bel canto lines, they are difficult, but they are nothing to Wagner. The lines are much more natural for the human voice. And you don't have to sing over such a big orchestra with bel canto."

"But isn't it true that the thinner orchestration leaves no room for mistakes? Anna can't hide behind the orchestra in this bel canto style like you sometimes can in Wagner."

"Pshaw. An opera singer can't hide behind a large orchestra. Wagner is much more difficult to sing, without question."

Ladies, this opera house ain't big enough for the three of us: showdown in the greenroom at high noon. Sharpen your Viking horns, and may the best diva win.

Saturday, February 10, 2007


A disturbing story this weekend on NPR. The number of American millionaires and billionaires has dramatically increased in recent years and the result is a tragic butler shortage. That's right -- many of America's best and sparkliest are being forced to interact face to face with the groundskeeper, and they don't even speak Mexican.

As I see it, there are three possible solutions.

1) Drop whatever you're doing and enroll in butler school. You and all your friends. Grad school be d***ned -- the richies need you.

2) Vote Democrat.

3) Madame la Guillotine.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Blessed with magic and firm upper arms.

I will have more to say in the near future about Meadowbright, Fairy of the Sun -- about how fate (and the U.S. Postal Service) brought us together. But for now let us all just sit and admire her. Be tanned and enlightened in her presence. For she is all things: she is Barbie, she is Xena; cocks her head shyly as a Tinkerbell, positions her scepter lustily as a Puck.

She is truly blessed with magic.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

We're all mad here.

Everyone knows that many of the greatest artists have been certifiable. Most of these people spend more time reimagining the world on canvas or celluloid or CD than they do eating paint or cutting off their own ears, but sometimes the border between creative and insane is hard to define.

In recent months I've had occasion to think about and read about autism a lot, and it's interesting to learn that what in many cases manifests as extreme rigidity and adherence to routine (think Rainman) is just a coping strategy for the autistic, who notice the bazillion things that the rest of us automatically filter and sort. The fact that they notice every last fleck of light and shadow gives them creative possibilities that others lack, but the problem is learning to sort thorough all they see and express it to others.

My brother (lightly loopy, a formidable scriptorian, and one of the hottest XYs on the market) teaches kids who have been committed to the State Mental Hospital in Provo. He sees the whole array, from those who are truly crippled by their illnesses to those who walk a line between madness and mad genius. I got a real kick out of this poem that an autistic student turned out for a writing assignment:

The Mountain

Oh, up on the mountain the sun shines down like a lance,
The spiders prance, the fish growl, and the dragons dance,
And of course all two hundred dwarves run askance.
The squirrels all look around,
At the pizza to be found,
In the sky, but mostly on the ground.
All the varmints hop, to get away from the angry housewives mop
And the Martians hiding in the corn crop,
Waiting to abduct
People that get too close to their hiding spots,
Should know that the mountain is the life for them.
The mountain is big, as in large, as in big,
and the old monkey woman wears a wig,
as she bakes pie, made of pig.
Oh the mountain is big.

We've got a new Lewis Carroll here -- someone bust that kid out and let him loose upon this drab world! I'm a bit jealous. My family culture glorified craziness, so I was miffed when a series of high school personality/career tests repeatedly placed me smack in the middle of the left-right brain continuum. Vaguely creative, vaguely analytical, remarkably nothing. I dreamed of making a name for myself as a lunatic guru with a profoundly wacked comeback for all things banal. I wanted to be a Feste, a Python, a Blackadder, a Starkadder, a Tweedle Brother, a Coen Brother. But alas.

Normally I content myself with devouring the work of those who are true originals and pray that God will see fit to remove my left brain in the next life. But I have noticed that when I'm really excited-slash-distressed, it shuts off on its own and odd things happen. For instance, several years ago I stumbled on the first band I'd ever found that tapped into my preferred brand of warm-hearted nutsiness, and for a week or more I was up late listening to their music. Eventually my sleep-deprived self began writing a really wacky poem (more doggerel verse, really) that I eventually attached to the first and only fan letter I've ever written. This goofy poem then led to a friendship with the loony lyricist himself and one of his Pynchon-reading buddies. Almost a dream come true, but....

I was a fraud, and that became apparent when my addled brain returned to normal. I was asked to contribute some edgy copy to the press kit for their new record. My heart pitter-pattered, but my right brain called in sick. In retrospect, the solution was likely some LSD and an all-nighter or two, but with smoke pouring out my ears I begged them to let me off the hook. They knew how much I wanted to contribute and kindly threw me a consolation prize -- I could copyedit their liner notes. I still cringe when I think of it. My big chance to flaunt my inner kook, and I ended up EDITING LINER NOTES.

Maybe I should check myself in and see what I can learn from my brother's students. I know life with a mental illness must be hellish, but life as a terminal derivative is no walk in the park either. Who wants to die of boredom?

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Gadabout girl.

All the dire warnings about greenhouse gases have made me think a lot about what I can do to curb my car use. I don't expect I'll start taking the bus to work anytime soon -- that would require getting up a lot earlier -- but I can walk a lot more places, and it would help me keep my girlish figure. After all, that's one of the reasons I wanted to live downtown -- to be within walking distance of everything. So Saturday I decided I was going to walk on most of my errands. I took my regular walk around the neighborhood with Sharon, then walked to my massage appointment (a.k.a. walking machine tune-up), and then to the library, and then home. Besides getting exercise and feeling a tiny bit better about my pollution generation levels, I spotted some fun junk. For starters: the Wicked Witch of the East has crash-landed into a yard in my neighborhood. A pair of pink flamingos look on, unfazed. Call the Munchkins for a cleanup on Aisle 7!

Nothing says "the landlord's got a camera hidden in your bathroom" like an apartment building named "Spyglass." Yikes!

Apparently I'm not the only lonely heart in the Avenues. Or maybe this message isn't "I have no one to love" but rather "I love everything"? "I love this sidewalk and the people on it and the earthworms under it and the pigeons above it and..."

I've collected a lot of fun Dickensian names the last few years in my walks through the Salt Lake City Cemetery (the Umpleby family, Fairy Gentry, and Virgil Groo, for starters), but Saturday was the first day I'd noticed this one. Sharon has a friend named Linwood, so we decided a Linwood is a country Lin and a Linville is a city Lin.

My former Young Women's leader, Ruth Menlove, sculpted this bronze a few years ago for the Peter Prier violin-making school in Salt Lake. I've driven by it a billion times in the years I've lived in Salt Lake and each time I've thought "gotta get out and see Ruth's statue up close...but some other day." Turns out "some other day" was Saturday, as I walked to the library. Great job, Ruthie!

Digression: Everyone tries to deny it when I speak of my crazy-huge head. Here's Ruth's caricature of the 14-year-old me in a sea of girls' camp comrades. Mooniest face in the bunch -- the artist lieth not. The one behind me with the halo is Ruth, of course.

This synagogue, built in 1903, is now a Greek Orthodox church. I loved the Hebrew script below the Orthodox onion domes and Islamic arches. Made me think....in this age of interfaith marriages they should have religion malls -- all your religion needs in one stop, then meet up in the food court after services for Starbucks.

There are six separate apartment units pictured in this photo. Apparently the residents of #1, #7, #9, and #11 were involved in some sort of secret love rectangle and didn't want #3 and #5 in on it. Or maybe that's a fire escape and you get a special discount on your rent if you choose one of the firetrap apartments with no access to the staircase.

This church has a new clever tagline each week. I want to go in and ask them if they have some wisenheimer pastor who comes up with them or if they consult a fat book of cheesy religious jokes. My favorite in recent memory was "If Jesus is your co-pilot, switch places."

This little Christmas mouse was sitting on the sidewalk in front of a house that was still fully decked out for the holidays. I can only assume that he had gorged himself on one fruitcake too many and was heading off in search of a nice Easter salad.

To be continued....